The normal (Christian) journey of faith
Chapter 7: Organizing Your Devotions
This is a tricky one! It is very much a product of my own experience – failing to organize my own devotions for many years because no one told me how to do it. So it is a very personal argument I am going to present. Please, forgive me for that.
When we start along the Christian path there are plenty of people telling us how we should organize our devotions. The trouble is, or was for me, that they all seem to be written by those wonderful people who are full of energy all day long and have a great ability to organize that energy to good purpose. So they tell us we should bound out of bed at some unearthly hour in the morning; read our Bibles, and pray for an hour or preferably two; then proceed to breakfast and a full day’s work. Waaah! I just don’t operate like that. Perhaps you don’t either. Until I have had my breakfast my mind is out of gear. For you that early necessity may be the first cup of coffee – even worse! We are not all super-man or super-woman, are we?
So, if we are just ordinary, how should we organize our devotional lives?
I believe the answer is that we should think about it very carefully and construct a schedule that suits us in the sense that it is one that we can adhere to without too great difficulty even if it is not at all what the people who write books and articles on the subject say we should do.
Let me give you an example: I had been a Christian for very many years before I realized that by far the best thing I could do was to set aside one evening a week to spend reading my Bible, reading a good commentary on the same passage, thinking about it (the posh word is meditating), praying about all sorts of things and generally getting close to the Lord. The rest of the week my encounters with the Lord were, I must admit, rather thin and short affairs, fitted into the gaps in my very busy life. Sorry, Lord, but that is what worked for me. I was happy with it; I hope You were.
Do you see what I am driving at? Most of us, most of the time, are rather busy people. It may be a workload, not helped by emails and mobile phones. It may be that you are a mother with two pre-school age kids, in which case there are few or no gaps in your days at all until they are both horizontal and your spouse is home and has eaten. Even then you have to dodge the television and bury the phone if you are to get any peace and quiet. But space can be made if you stop and think about how it can be created. However busy we may think we are, however busy we actually are, there are gaps in our week. Your television set will be able to tell you how much spare time you really have!
The sort of personality we are deeply affects how we operate in this area. A few years ago we joined in a small group of 8 people, 4 couples, for prayer and mutual support. We managed to get into some deeper sharing than is usual in our culture. To our surprise we discovered that of the 8 of us, all of whom could have been counted as senior Christians, long on the road of faith, only 2 could claim anything like a well organized spiritual life with daily prayer, Bible reading and meditation. Both these 2, who did not include me, were people who quite clearly by the nature of their work were accustomed to a neat, well controlled and organized daily work experience and both had personalities that fitted well into that sort of situation. The other 6 of us were much more haphazard in our spiritual lives. 8 people constitutes a very small sample from which no statistically sound conclusions can be drawn, but it made me, and I think the other 5 non-achievers, wonder.
A good, God honouring daily prayer life does not come easily. Ever since that experience of the 2 and the 6 I have wondered when people talk about praying for this and that, whether they really do – if they are honest.
So much for the organization side of things. Now – what should we organize? Here are some ideas, not all of which you could reasonably use in one session. First: Bible reading. I am surprised at how many apparently senior Christians use comparatively ‘thin’ Bible study notes. They are a good way to start into the Bible (along with the Study Bible I mentioned earlier) but must surely rate as the ‘milk’ Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 3 and the ‘basic teaching’ the writer to the Hebrews talks about in Hebrews 6. Commentaries on the Bible will usually provide deeper things to think about and meditate on. We, my wife and I, find the NIV Application Commentary series very good in the way they not only explain the text but lead one’s thoughts forward to deeper understanding and meditation – all of which advice is dependant, of course, on whether you are in a position to get hold of them. Then, of course, there is all the material Dave puts into these Partaker notes, which are usually also deep and thought provoking (this particular series is not designed to do quite that) and will be available to you since you are reading this!
For prayer, again subject to availability, there are many sets of Prayer Notes provided by many of the mission societies and some churches and it is good to use them. My wife uses a book of fairly old hymns to lead her on in the way of Worship prayer and to avoid the temptation to make a time of prayer just a list of the things one would like to happen. Being a well organized person she has a bundle of Prayer Letters from various full-time workers on the Mission field and she reads and uses the top one of these each day before putting it to the back of the bundle.
It should be obvious by now that there are many things one can do by way of prayer. I haven’t mentioned things like the way some people say they pray as they drive the car to work (not for me!). There is great value in having one particular spot, a chair or a room, which is the place we pray. If closing your eyes to pray tempts you to go to sleep leave them open! You will have understood by now that what I am trying to do is to make you, and everybody else reading or listening to these notes, think about how you should go about your relationship with the Lord. There are many different ways of going about it and not everyone will use every way or the same way. We don’t all have the same amount of time or energy or the same sort of personality. There is no exact precise set of rules about how we should go about it in our Christian faith, unlike some other religions that make a great play about having everyone do the exact same things in the exact same way at the exact same times. Perhaps our way is harder – but true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was never promised to be easy! And it shows up much more clearly what our faith means to us.